Surviving TechEd 2009

So I had the opportunity to go to TechEd for the first time this year. I have been hearing about the hype for years … it certainly lived up to its reputation in every way. Wow, and this year was a quiet event? I shudder to think. 🙂 Haven’t been able to write about this till now, been in recovery since Wednesday. Hope I can remember everything; it all goes past in a blur. It’s always difficult to know what to expect with these things and I drove Michael, Rob and Marc a bit crazy with all the questions. It was decidedly intimidating.

I have to take a second to give a huge big thank you to Michael O’Donovan from Microsoft and Robert Maclean from BB&D for arranging my whole trip. They are solely responsible for me being there and I am deeply grateful to you both for the experience and opportunity. And then to Marc Lenferna from 3Fifteen who pretty much babysat me the whole 4 days. You guys rock!! The IW team just works!

Sunday :

Trying to track down anybody in that expanse was a challenge, as well as finding the community lounge since no-one seemed to know where it was. So much activity all over the show. There seemed to be some miscommunication about when people will start coming to the Expo Hall, because it was real quiet all of Sunday afternoon. Not a train smash, it gave people time to get their bearings.

It also gave us time to pop out for lunch. Packed 5 guys into my car and went to News Cafe in Sun Coast casino where Ryan spent alot of time telling us about his sheep girlfriend Lucy. Strange boy that.

Finally met Dave Coates who arranged the whole community lounge. He had his hands full the whole time trying to get people to stick to the schedule and man the lounge. Herding cats springs to mind. Looks like Dave is going to head up IW in Port Elizabeth, so watch this space for more on that in the near future.

Then met the notorious Zlatan Dzinic … who is actually quite nice in real life ;). He is full of fun and jokes. You certainly need a thick skin to withstand some of his comments, but he is really endearing. Go figure, lol.

The K2 stand was right next to the community lounge so had lots of time to shoot the breeze with them. I was surprised at the number of familiar faces, guys from Immix, Intervate, I5, IS Partners and Outsurance too. It turned into quite a reunion party.

Our international guests, Eric Harlan and Joel Oleson were driving down from Swaziland, and were just not answering the phone all day. Michael and I were trying not to panic that they had been ‘detained’ in any way, means or form. MUCH later that evening it turns out they were in the hotel. A collective sigh of relief was the order of the day since I recommended they drive themselves around the country. It would not have been funny if they went missing. My favourite quote from Joel when I was trying to teach them Afrikaans : Goeie Dagga, (his version of Goeie Dag! Lol). I quickly explained why that wouldn’t mean quite the same thing as good day.

The opening keynote was pretty good. The Windows 7 and Office 2010 videos rocked!!! VERY impressed with those. Those Microsoft marketing boys have got the coolest job on earth, man they know their stuff! There was so much information in the keynote, it’s difficult to remember it all, but Rob seemed to become the official TechEd Twitterer, so go to his tweets for the indepth details. Very cool to sit upstairs and get a bird’s eye view of all the attendees. Just under 2000 people attended this year … and you could see that the second you had to get food. The queues were just too long; we had to resort to beer instead. (Don’t you hate it when that happens).

The opening party was a carnival theme, feathers and glitter everywhere. It made for great photos. It was also a good time to start meeting new people, but after an hour any attempt at networking goes out the window and you just have fun instead. There was lots of posing for pics with the stars of the event, just in case there wasn’t an opportunity later in the week. The dancers were a hit, music rocking most of the time. Typical night one, everyone wants to go big. I just remembered the words from Alan, “pace yourself”. Sage advice. Decided not to join the hooligans in Florida Road or Rivets and went home instead. It was already midnight.

Monday :

First session – 8am. NOT feeling well!!!! Trying to concentrate on dashboards and reporting became a challenge very quickly, the room was packed and hot! Managed to survive that one and get some breakfast in time for the second session on Excel Services. Did not make that one, had to leave quarter of the way through. I was on the verge of falling asleep – the room was just too hot and stuffy as well, no reflection on the speaker. Went to the community lounge to go hang out with Dave. Spent all morning laughing at the Guitar Hero contestants. Suddenly wasn’t so funny when they insisted I play too. (I am not a gamer at all). They decided to put me on the drums so I immediately outsourced the sticks. Gave them to two guys and just did the pedal. It was a 5 piece band with hysterical laughing in the process. (Look I don’t have co-ord ok, hands and feet were not going to work together, this was plan b). We didn’t do too badly considering. Put it this way, compared to Joel and Zlatan’s singing, we were rock gods.

Attended Zlatan’s session on Social Networking, and then didn’t agree with one of his comments. Don’t think he was too enchanted with us, but no-one took anything personally, it was all good. Zlatan does enjoy hearing himself speak though, lol. What a cool oke.

Then got to see Eric and Joel’s sessions. Been looking forward to hearing Eric and Joel speak for months and they did not disappoint. The great thing is that we seem to be aligned with international trends; we won’t need to go back 25 steps and catch up. We’re right up there with what’s going on.

The lunch box sessions are well organized. You get this cool cardboard box tied with a ribbon with all kinds of yummyness inside. You just had to be careful with them though, because they like to fall apart underneath and scatter your lunch all over the session room, much to the embarrassment of a lot of people.

The InfoPath session with Kevin Coetzee was the best session I attended. He had fantastic energy and you couldn’t help smiling. He also did an awesome job promoting Information Worker. In that whole room of people, only one or two knew about us. We spent a lot of time trying to change that from that point on.

I spent the afternoon in the community lounge with the gangs, and got to play guitar hero again. This time on the guitar. Considering I have never picked up a guitar in my life, I didn’t do too badly. Got to 86% on the 3rd try. Clearly I am better at strings than drums. Guitar Hero was a hit at the community lounge.

Ask the Experts was a bit disjointed. Everyone got to wear MVP caps for a couple of hours. There wasn’t too much asking going on – far more beer drinking, picture taking and laughing instead. It turned into a really entertaining session with plenty of camaraderie between the MVP’s and the community.

I then decided to attend the Women in IT cocktails which was supposed to be a good networking opportunity. I was surprised to hear that men were not invited to this, but after attending it, was decidedly very happy that they didn’t get to see it. I was NOT impressed nor amused. It was totally unprofessional and unproductive. If you have ever wondered why men tend to not take women seriously in business (and I am generalizing, I am not referring to my colleagues), this event was exactly why. I was embarrassed to be in that session. You simply cannot go on and on about how you wanted to cry because you were so moved by what you were doing – and then actually cry! It was totally demeaning and disempowering to women and I won’t attend it again. (Also funny how a cocktail evening didn’t have any cocktails). I was expecting a mixed crowd of men and women with the speeches given by powerful women with strong messages applicable to everybody. The fact that this was a segregated session gives the wrong message and just causes dissent. Most of the people I have worked with over the years don’t see men or women – they just want to know if you can do your job. You can be orange with purple spots, they don’t care. I don’t agree with the format or message of this event and will happily volunteer to take it over for next year. I met a lady IT Director and lady MVP after the session who agreed with me whole-heartedly. They both in fact boycott that event every year for the above reasons. The lady manning the stand also had no idea what was going on, she was apparently new. Why would you put a brand new person on a stand at an event like this and not prep them sufficiently? I tried to ask her 3 times for information and she still couldn’t help me, not cool girls. Very bad reflection on us.

Anyway, I headed right back to the community lounge the second I could escape that dredgery. Plans were being made for dinners and the crowds pretty much went their separate ways for this one. Ruari from Microsoft invited us to join his dinner, so a whole bunch of us from the community lounge went to Butcher Boys in Florida Road. WHAT a brilliant evening, we laughed till we had cramps!! Peter Wilmot is screamingly funny. A really good time was had by all, and it was thankfully a reasonably early night.

Tuesday :

Blew off the first session to have a sleep in. Got back just after 10 after being stood up by taxi’s 3 times. Next time I am booking into the Hilton, this commuting story doesn’t work. Manned the community lounge till my session started. We gave away stress balls and mugs and tshirts all day again to entice people to our stand. People could also enter with their business card to with the Xbox and Guitar Hero. There are always over-achievers in every crowd. Zain Sabjee from Safcor put in 48 entries and Hayley Irvine from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University put in 23. Wow. Talk about dedication to the cause. 🙂 We had 134 people in total enter for our prizes.

The tagging game was on and people were running around looking inside, under and on top of things trying to find tags. That went down well. Pokens became an instant hit and I am still mad the supplier wouldn’t let me take some on credit. We would have sold a ton. Servers were being sold at R500 and the queues never stopped for that one. Every stand had different sweets or gimmicks. There were snacks served all day long. It was well organised.

At 2:30 our session started led by Hilton Giesnow, along with Michael and Rob – SharePoint : Build it and they will not come. The room was chock-a-block full and went off smoothly. It felt like an IW round table event, which really helped calm any nerves that threatened to show from my side. (This was old hat to all the boys). First TechEd. Listed as a speaker. Cool. 🙂 Yes ok it was only a whiteboard session, still, I am taking the glory, lol. Our audience at least clapped for us at the end and some people stayed to ask questions, so that was nice. (And we had more people in our session than in Zlatan, Joel and Eric’s, so we got brag rights).

A gentleman from an HR company wanted to know why we always use leave forms as an example in SharePoint as an “easy” example. He pointed out that there is a lot more to a leave form than meets the eye – like checking leave balances, adjusting the figures with the days taken, approvals, escalations, etc etc; and that there are complex HR systems written to manage things like that. He had a point. So no offense meant to the HR people out there, we will be careful what we say in future.

Zlatan and Joel were late for their next session, so we put their Youtube video up for everyone to see when they arrived. The more they blushed, the more we laughed.

After all this, and some more hanging around in the community lounge, we all moved over the road to the Exhibition Centre for the closing party. (And this is where is starts getting hazy).

It was an enormous hall with rows on each side packed with food. Trying to find someone you know in that sea of faces is no easy thing, stick to your crowd like glue or spend all night looking for them. The music started of brilliantly and then a new band arrived. Uuugghhh. Please, it was too much for most of us to listen to. The international guys just ducked eventually. So to cope with the noise, Michael decided that ordering tequila would be a good idea. (And if any of you have heard the ‘party in the stomach’ sound clip you’ll know that tequila aaaalways brings his friends … “we ain’ gonna cause no trouble”. Yeah, right).

Predictably enough we all ended up on the dance floor thinking we knew what we were doing. Dancing barefoot didn’t work so lekker because of all the broken glass. (By now the DJ had arrived so the music was awesome). I don’t know, it just goes on and on from here. Rory made me give the DJ some piece of paper with something about Michael on it, but don’t know what that was about. Dave is a pretty good dancer and we were lang-arming around the place, Michael had some weird zulu / sprinkler dance thing going. Rob did Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Can’t recall what Marc was doing … mmm. We then went to Rivets in the Hilton to carry on the party there. And that’s what happened till around 4am. I think. Lol. All I know was that I was not the only one throwing my name away – I was in very good company. But you know what they say : what happens at TechEd, stays at TechEd!! … and on Youtube. 😉

Wednesday :

Somebody just kill me please. Sessions? What sessions? Barely made the closing keynote. Want to die. Nausea. Headache. Dizzy. Thirsty in the worst way. Marc, Iwan and I all fell asleep during the keynote. Those closing sessions are far too long considering the hangovers that have to sit through them. People were walking out in droves. Rory had to give a speech and I think the assessment he was given for his condition of “bleeding from the eyes” pretty much summed it up for all of us. We decided to go straight to Moyos on the beach front for a regmaker, and then spent 2 hours waiting for everybody to get theirn act together. Do you know how hard it is to stand around aimlessly for 2 hours when you’ve had 2 hours sleep? Eventually made an executive decision to just leave, dragged Marc with me, and we hit Moyos. Ruari and Craig joined us and we had a quiet couple of hours reminiscing and recapping.

Took Marc to the airport, went back home and went to bed!!! Slept for 10 hours. To those of you that do Partner Summit right after that? Dude, how do you do it??

And that was that. Over in a flash. We got nice laptop bags and a shirt when we arrived; mugs and lunch hampers when we left. Microsoft rocks!!

DEFINITELY see you next year.

Pictures uploaded to TechEd 2009 pics folder on IW site under Events. They are all over the net at this point, I will copy them to this folder as they surface.

Tips for TechEd Newbies:

Wear comfortable shoes.
The main parties are the first night and last night.
Go with a friend if you can, it can get lonely there all by yourself.
Book into the Hilton and just walk. Commuting is horrible.
Get out of ICC parking soon as you can, it’s expensive.
Carry as little stuff with you as you can. When you get to the parties it becomes a pain to babysit.
Get breakfast before the first session, the queues between the first and second sessions are very long.
The whiteboard sessions are packed, get there early or you’ll have to sit on the floor.
Visit the community lounge often!! 🙂

About Veronique Palmer

Empowering people one at a time.
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